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- Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
Appetite changes, nausea or vomiting
It is common for your appetite to change during chemotherapy. Sometimes you may not feel hungry or you may prefer different types of food. The drugs may also temporarily change how food tastes.
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Chemotherapy can make you feel sick (nauseated) or make you vomit. Not everyone feels sick during or after chemotherapy, but if nausea affects you, it often starts a few days after your first treatment. Nausea may last a short time or for many hours and it may be accompanied by vomiting or retching (when you feel the need to vomit but can’t). Sometimes nausea lasts for days after treatment.
Often the best way to manage nausea is to prevent it from starting, so you will usually be given anti-nausea (antiemetic) medicine before, during and after chemotherapy sessions. Anti-nausea medicine helps most people, but finding the right one can take time.
If nausea or vomiting continues after using the prescribed medicine, let your nurse or doctor know early so that another medicine can be tried. Steroids may also be used to manage nausea.
Being unable to keep liquids down because of vomiting can make you dehydrated. Signs of dehydration include a dry mouth and skin, dark urine (wee), dizziness and confusion. It is not safe to be left alone if you are vomiting a lot, as the confusion may make it difficult to realise you have become seriously dehydrated.
How to manage appetite loss
- Eat what you feel like, when you feel like it.
- Try eating frequent snacks rather than large meals.
- Avoid strong odours and cooking smells that may put you off eating. It might help to prepare meals ahead and freeze them for days you don’t feel like cooking.
- If the taste of certain foods has changed, don’t force yourself to eat them. After treatment finishes, your sense of taste should return to normal.
- If you don’t feel like eating solid foods, try enriching your drinks with powdered milk, yoghurt or honey. Or try easy-to-swallow foods such as scrambled eggs.
- Don’t use nutritional supplements or medicines without your doctor’s advice, as some could affect how your treatment works.
- Ask a dietitian for advice on the best foods to eat during treatment and recovery.
How to manage nausea
- Have a light, bland meal before your treatment (e.g. soup with dry biscuits).
- Sip water or other fluids throughout the day so that you don’t get dehydrated. Sucking on ice cubes or iceblocks, or eating jellies can also increase your fluid intake. If water tastes unpleasant, flavour it with ginger cordial or syrup.
- If your stomach is upset, try drinking fizzy drinks such as soda water or dry ginger ale.
- If you wake up feeling sick, eat a dry biscuit or slice of toast rather than skipping a meal.
- If you aren’t able to keep fluids down, contact your doctor or hospital immediately. They may be able to treat the vomiting, or you may need to have fluids through an intravenous drip in hospital.
For more on this, see Nutrition and cancer.
Once I started chemotherapy, I went off my food. My mouth felt very dry, which made food taste unappetising. Adding extra sauce helped.Helen
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Timothy Price, Medical Oncologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, SA; Graham Borgas, Consumer: Dr Joanna Dewar, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Professor, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Justin Hargreaves, Medical Oncology Nurse Practitioner, Bendigo Health Cancer Centre, VIC; Angela Kritikos, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Dietetic Department, Liverpool Hospital, NSW; Dr Kate Mahon, Director of Medical Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Chris Rivett, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Marissa Ryan, Acting Consultant Pharmacist (Cancer Services), Pharmacy Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD.
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